She beat the splintered end of a fence post further into the earth. The ground, sodden from rain, gave way easily, but still she beat it, enjoying the jolt and the bounce-back. Chickens pecked at the soles of her boots through wire hexagons. They escaped again early that morning. The wind blew three of the fence posts down and made little glinting metal hillocks of wire mesh across the garden.
When she drew the curtains first thing, she wasn’t sure of what she was seeing. Now, here they were. Seventeen of them: Araucanas, Bluebells, Marans, Orpingtons, and a few Goldlines rescued from slaughter. She looked at them now, the Goldlines, pecking, clucking, clawed feet curling, cocking their heads to one side, eye-balling the ground for worms or bugs.
They took a while to feather up. Serena wanted to knit them jumpers after finding a pattern online. And she would have done it too, in the space before death, if she could knit. She wiped hair from her face with the back of her wrist. The wind was getting up again, but the fence should hold.
She dipped her chin into her scarf that still smelled of Serena. Her perfume. Her laugh. Her life. She looked out across the field. Nothing was left of the trees now, just swaying branches, skeletons; the lot of them, branches rattling like bones in the wind. Around the very edges of the field she could make out the golds, reds, yellows, and browns of the leaves from the old great oaks. She saw a pair of pheasants running, necks outstretched, a hare standing perfectly still in the rolling shadow of the clouds. The storm left the air taught and threatened, another storm waiting to follow and the wind had blown the grass flat. She would be rebuilding the run again come morning.
She stubbed the toe of her boot into the ground. The soil bruised and squelched a belch of watery mud across her laces; her hair whipped against her cheeks and caught in her eyelashes and the wet of her lips. She felt weak for the first time in years. Only moments before she felt hot and heady and full of the thrill of life. A fleeting feeling, like water through the fingers. Now winter arrived and she didn’t even notice it coming. The garden was dead. Rose petals turned to brown pulp, the brilliant sweet-smelling purple heliotrope she bought Serena turned grey and brittle; the trees sung a wandering song of their own. She turned to where Serena always stood by the door. Watching her.
She was a shadow now, a blue-green blanket from the back of her chair wrapped around her shoulders. Her hands clasped around a mug of tea. She barely seemed to move beneath the flap-flapping of the blanket and the gentle ruffle of her short dark hair. But then she smiled, seemingly unable to help herself.
Serena was beautiful. Serena was always beautiful. Graceful. She was standing in a fine mist of rain in her old boots, losing hairpins in the mud. But that one smile was all it took to remind her of why she (and the chickens) remained.
Serena. It had always been Serena.
Raised simultaneously by David Bowie and Virginia Woolf, Natascha Graham writes fiction, non-fiction and poetry, as well as writing for stage and screen. She lives with her wife in a house full of sunshine on the east coast of England.
Her play, How She Kills, was performed by The Mercury Theatre in August 2020 and broadcast on BBC radio in September. Her second play, Confessions: The Hours, has been performed by Thornhill Theatre London, Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York, BBC Radio Suffolk, and both have been selected by Pinewood Studios and Lift-Off Sessions as part of their First Time Filmmakers Festival 2020.
Her poetry, fiction and non-fiction essays have been previously published by Acumen, Litro, Every Day Fiction, The Sheepshead Review, Yahoo News, and The Mighty. Natascha also has an upcoming poetry pamphlet published with Tall Lighthouse in 2021 and writes a continuing radio drama for BBC Radio.